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Explained: Why @realDonaldTrump and @PMOIndia are not affected as Twitter starts labelling government handles

Twitter has started labelling accounts of key government officials and institution, as well as state-funded media. Which accounts will be labelled? Will Indian Twitter handles be labelled too?

Written by Nandagopal Rajan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 9, 2020 10:34:50 am
Twitter, Twitter labels govt handles, Twitter labelling, Twitter news, Twitter misinformation, Twitter Covid-19, Indian Express A file photograph of the Twitter app icon on a mobile phone. The company has started labelling the accounts of key government officials. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Twitter has just announced that it will start labelling accounts of key government officials and institution, as well as state-funded media. While the micro-blogging platform said it “is providing people with context so they can make informed decisions about what they see and how they engage on Twitter”, this model seems to be a related to the impending US elections and the spread of misinformation along with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Which accounts will Twitter be labelling?

Twitter’s blog said the labels will appear on “accounts of key government officials, including foreign ministers, institutional entities, ambassadors, official spokespeople, and key diplomatic leaders”, and state-affiliated media entities, their editors-in-chief, and/or their senior staff.

The blog said with the officials the focus now was “on senior officials and entities who are the official voice of the state abroad”. So the handles of the White House, @Potus and @Flotus are flagged “US government account” while China’s @globaltimesnews and Russia’s @GlobalTimesRus are labelled “state affiliated media” with the country specified.

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Why is President Donald Trump’s account not labelled?

For now, Twitter says it is “not labelling the personal accounts of heads of state, as these accounts enjoy widespread name recognition, media attention, and public awareness”. But it thinks institutional accounts associated with their offices, that “changeover depending on election results”, need to be labelled. Twitter’s focus is however on “those within the respective administrations underneath the head of state that offer its policy perspective abroad”.

Will Indian Twitter handles be labelled too?

No. To start with, Twitter is limiting its activity to the five countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Twitter says it is limiting the feature to China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States now, “for transparency and practicality”. However, it talks of expanding to a wider range of countries in the future. Till then, India’s @PMOIndia and @rashtrapatibhvn will go without the labels.

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How does Twitter define state-affiliated media accounts?

Twitter is making a distinction between state-affiliated and state-funded media. So a Global Times, where the Chinese state “exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution” will be labelled, and state-financed media organisations “with editorial independence”, like UK’s BBC and NPR in the US will not be. This is because Twitter thinks state-affiliated media “frequently use their news coverage as a means to advance a political agenda”.

“We believe that people have the right to know when a media account is affiliated directly or indirectly with a state actor. As part of the development of this process, we consulted with a number of expert groups, including members of the Digital and Human Rights Advisory group in Twitter’s Trust & Safety Council,” the blog post said.

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Interestingly, tweets from these state-affiliated media accounts will no longer be amplified on the platform via “recommendation systems including on the home timeline, notifications, and search”.

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